Paris, going green

“Man therefore becomes an eco-player” there are the words of Sophie Rozen, head of Client Research at JLL who talks about the greening of buildings as part of the Grand Paris project.

As France hosted the latest COP21 last December, questions regarding global warming and the battle to reduce greenhouse gases are at the forefront for society.  Societies that are increasingly urban – according to the UN, over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas and by 2050, this level is set to increase to two thirds. The combined effect of a surge in urbanisation and a rising population will lead to an increase of 2.5 billion additional people living in cities.

Cities continue to grow creating an ever increasing expanse of concrete and asphalt which causes rises in air temperature as well as a suffocating feeling and illness in cities, which is all too often coupled with issues regarding atmospheric pollution. In light of these phenomena of overheating and air quality, which are only recent considerations in urban policy, cities need to react and adapt. We are now seeing the emergence of a number of initiatives in France and elsewhere, to build sustainable cities: pedestrianised city centres, shared vehicles, priority access for cycles and low-impact traffic, pedestrianisation of riverside roads, the rise in eco-districts, development of the circular economy and enhancing green spaces.

In fact, the reintroduction of vegetation appears to be one of the means of combatting these urban hotspots. This matter is all the more crucial as Paris is one of the most densely populated cities in the world with few green spaces in the centre.

Paris has understood and has taken a sharp ‘green’ turn, as witnessed by the winners of competition ‘Réinventer Paris’ (competition for innovative urban projects) seeking exemplary social and environmental projects. These included the ‘Mille Arbres’ project (meaning a thousand trees) with its floating village in the middle of a forest (Bd Pershing, Paris 17), ‘Ilôt fertile’ (fertile island) with its zero carbon district (Eole-Evangile Triangle, Paris 19) and ‘Réalimenter Masséna’ (Gare Masséna, Paris 13) with its wooden Babel’s tower and urban roof farm.

Following the 22 shades of green of ‘Réinventer Paris’, at the beginning of 2016, the City of Paris launched a call for projects for ‘Parisculteurs’: 47 public and private sites – roofs, walls, terraces, car parks, etc. – made available for the development of innovative urban agriculture or ‘greening’ projects. The aim: to introduce 100 hectares of vegetation into the capital’s built environment by 2020; this initiative should be the catalyst for other operators to follow the same path.

What will the impact be for the city of the future and the people that live in it? How will this move towards nature be seen in buildings and companies?

Vegetation in urban areas contributes to improvements in the environment as well as to the quality of life of residents. On the one hand due to improved acoustic and thermal qualities for buildings (local cooling and insulating building facades) and, on the other hand, better air quality (CO2 absorption). It is worth noting that, due to CSR policies, quality of life and air pollution are increasingly important criteria for large multinationals in their locational choices. These indicators therefore contribute to the regional attractiveness of Paris that faces strong competition from other world cities.

Increased vegetation also allows for reduced energy consumption (heating in the winter/colling in the summer) and to fight the effects of overheating. It also contributes to better rainwater management and improving urban biodiversity. It therefore contributes to building energy performance and to sustainability.

It also has a social role to play. The ‘greening’ of buildings, which can take many forms from green roofs and walls to shared gardens and urban farming, encourages well-being and improves city living conditions. Studies also show that there are positive benefits in terms of health, productivity and workplace absenteeism. This feature therefore represents an ‘intangible value’ for the occupiers of these buildings.

This social dimension is growing and its impact, on either city dwellers or employees, is real. The greening of buildings brings people together. Urban cultural areas allow people to meet, exchange, transfer knowledge or even grow crops together. Man therefore becomes an eco-player.

In this vein, a new certification based on the individual and his well-being at work was launched on the other side of the Atlantic in 2014. The Well Building Standard considers the building, the way it is run as well as its uses and services. It considers 7 key themes: air, water, supply, lighting, physical activity, comfort and the mind. The idea is that well-being is a key to success for companies to which all themes contribute. A quality building is a source of well-being. Well-being also has an impact on productivity and is therefore a lever for efficiency and performance. In France, a number of projects have already been recorded, such as the building at ‘55 Rue d’Amsterdam’ by Gecina which will be the first refurbished building to be certified, as well as the Duo towers (Paris 13) by Ivanhoé Cambridge.